Johan Galtung Transcend and Transform : An Introduction to Conflict Work (London: Pluto Press, 2004, 189pp.


As Johan Galtung points out “Since the end of the Cold War, the need to transcend war as an institution and to transform the underlying structures and cultural pathologies which legitimise and reinforce war and violence at all levels of society has not diminished. In fact, in many ways, it has grown stronger. “Today, there is no such thing as a purely intra-or inter-state conflict. The nodes and networks linking actors across state boundaries dictate that any conflict is likely to involve more parties than those fighting directly on the ground. Thus, today’s challenge is not only to be able to come up with mechanisms and institutions to prevent war, but to develop the creativity and imagination necessary to come up with creative and viable alternatives.” Thus, TRANSCEND, the network of peacebuilders which Galtung has brought together, uses a multitrack approach to conflict transformation “promoting a plurality of visions, alternatives and voices, and by building peace work upon the search for creative and viable alternatives to violence, drawing upon the background and experiences of actors at every social level . “To transcend conflict, dialogue is vital. There is a need to invite participation and insight from a variety of actors and drawing upon their own knowledge and experience of conflict and conflict transformation. If one limits mediation to a top-level approach among only those currently holding positions of power, such mediation reinforces the hierarchical divide between those identified with the power to take and implement decisions and all the others who are treated as the objects or victims of conflict. Such a division casts people into the role of spectators, promoting feelings of helplessness and apathy and may serve to estrange people from the peace process.” Resistance to peace can sometimes be very strong as there are those who have a vested interest in maintaining conflict as well as those who feel their fundamental needs and fears have not been addressed. Therefore, it is important to bring into a dialogue for peace, groups and individuals from every level of society and from the traditional, pre-modern networks so often left out of approaches to conflict resolution. “Even the best peace agreement is insufficient to guarantee a good peace process unless it is based upon widespread support and involvement by large numbers of people at every level of society” However, having multi-partners in the peace process does not mean having them all talking to each other, especially at the start. Peacebuilders have a tendency to rush antagonists to the negotiating table before they are ready, especially if violence has already broken out. If parties meet too early, anger may well be the dominant emotion. Anger is likely to be contagious, especially as each person has heard the positions before. People can be emotionally overwhelmed by the hatred for each other and fear what may happen if seen to be yielding on some point.

” Galtung stresses the importance of experience.“Real dialogue requires empathic listening. What is needed for transcendence is creativity. Such conflict parties are basically fellow human beings with a different understanding of the past. and willingness to take a fresh look instead of running up and down fixed grooves of thought”. and have built their lives around the injustice they feel they have suffered. There is an enormous reservoir of energy in any conflict which can be used to transform the conflict upwards. new relationships. they set the course. of being able to recognize common elements in different situations of tension. But the new should not be so new that it is incomprehensible. can paralyse all creativity. There are three themes in Galtung’s work which I find crucial and his presentation are useful reminders: the need for creativity. new institutional structures.” This birth process has to be assisted in a loving way. inclusive ‘system’ (like ‘Europe’ in a broad sense during the Cold War. He is very telling on the loss of vision and compassion which prolonged violence brings. stories of violence from people forever marked by conflict and violence. sombre persons who radiate nothing. TRANSCEND produces diagnosis of the roots of conflicts. religious tensions remain dangerous. . A destructive past orientation. the continuing impact of deep psychological and cultural factors. As Galtung notes concerning the approach “Values are fundamental. particularly when shared. not so much concern for the other as concern for the total.” There is a need to arrive at something new that is acceptable and sustainable – new attitudes. and to emphasise the destructive rather than the constructive. They become dark. The restructuring of the Nigerian federation from three states to more than 30 has changed the institutional and constitutional framework. mind. All true politics is an experiment where value and theory-driven action will be confronted with data on behalf of humanity. present. Thus. to aggression and violence. but at the local level. and spirit and reduces human beings relative to what they might have been…Every day we can hear. and future. Yet Galtung does not underestimate the task. The parties have to break down the polarisation within themselves and between them. like myself who first became involved in possible mediation efforts in the Nigeria-Biafra civil war of the late 1960s are today concerned with the Christian-Islamic tensions in northern Nigeria because we have seen Nigeria go up in fire before. the ‘sub-continent’ in any Indo-Pakistani encounter). those.” Thus conflicts must be transformed so that the parties can live creatively and nonviolently. at the micro-and meso-levels. the need for a future orientation. We recall that the spark of the Biafra war had been religious riots in northern Nigeria and the stories that refugees going south told of their experiences. rather than a source of light that can shine within them and for others. People are apprehensive and confused. And data are indispensable in order to know where we are. All true research is action research. “Fear of becoming a victim works on the body. and therapy perspectives on how conflicts can be transformed and peace built with an emphasis on countless dialogues with the conflict parties. like black holes in the social universe. They have become offended. even menacing. toward creativity and nonviolence. prognosis about what is happening and will continue to happen in the future if nothing is done to modify the trends. But theory is also needed as a map of uncharted territory. What has to be avoided is a transformation downward. “The problem is that strong emotions will tend to make them look to the past rather than to the future.

because it has been suppressed. which drive the parties without them being fully aware of what is happening. “Transcendence presupposes hope. and hope is located in visions of a positive. largely subconscious attitudes and behaviour patterns often the result of history and culture. constructive future. not in rehashing a traumatic past. then it’s better not to mention the tunnel in the first place. Rene Wadlow .through the flatness of the compromise or the cowardice of withdrawal. in the deep texts. Hopefully. While there has been a good deal of research and study on individual creativity. Ideas are often examined as reactions to events.” Such deep structures of a culture keep people looking at a problem in just one way. Creativity and political imagination are in short supply in the world. A glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel makes it considerably more easy to admit that we are in a tunnel. In such situations. Collective creativity may be the most important factor in transcending conflict and thus merits close attention.” If one needs to be future-oriented to get conflicting parties to look ahead. The wise observations of Johan Galtung with their emphasis on imagination will be of use to all peacebuilders – those who use the energy conflict generates to arrive at creative solutions. If there is no light. We need to ask how we can imagine a new society. going over and over the same intellectual ruts and emotions. Thus.” As Galtung notes “One basic assumption would be that people are better able to discuss a root problem when they sense there is a solution. the truth becomes unbearable. it is highly unlikely that creativity will emerge. or simply because it looks so obviously an expression of what is normal and natural that it remains unarticulated. creativity will open new ways of looking at issues. there has been much less study on the ways of political imagination. human rights are seen as reactions against tyranny and abuses. “We are more interested in the subconscious. there is also a need for the peacebuilders to recall that there are deep.” The TRANSCEND approach is future-oriented. negotiations can easily degenerate into a shouting match or verbal duels. and so creative thinking must begin before the parties come together for negotiations. because it has become a habit. especially in the arts and natural sciences. Mental images have deep roots and are embedded in deep emotions. new types of relationships. let alone fighting for extremist positions. that is.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful